Cambodia judge presses Khmer Rouge accused to end court boycott

Cambodia judge presses Khmer Rouge accused to end court boycott
This handout photo taken and released by the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on October 17, 2014 shows former Khmer Rouge leader "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea (C) in the ECCC courtroom in Phnom Penh.

PHNOM PENH - A Cambodian court overseeing the genocide trial of two former Khmer Rouge leaders threatened on Monday to assign one of them lawyers, after his defence team continued to boycott the UN-backed tribunal.

In August Nuon Chea, 88, known as "Brother Number Two", and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, were given life sentences for crimes against humanity.

The pair were the first top figures to be jailed from a regime responsible for the death of up to two million Cambodians from 1975-1979.

A second trial, in which they face charges of genocide and fresh counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, began in July.

But it has been delayed since mid-October due to a boycott by lawyers for the defendants, who want judges to be disqualified.

The motion to disqualify the judges was dismissed on Friday and Nuon Chea's defence team returned to the court on Monday.

But Kheiu Samphan again instructed his lawyers not to take part in proceedings, saying it would affect his "right to a fair trial".

The trial was adjourned until November 24 when the bench said it would appoint a defence team for Kheiu Samphan if he continued to block proceedings.

"While, indeed, you have the rights to be assisted by a lawyer of your own choice... that right is not absolute," Judge Nil Nonn, president of the trial chamber, told Khieu Samphan.

Khieu Samphan argued that a new counsel unfamiliar with his "defence strategy" may not able to represent him.

"For that reason there will be no justice," he said, adding that since he had already been sentenced to life in jail he had no reason to block the second trial.

The complex case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan was split into a series of smaller trials in 2011 in a bid to get a faster verdict for reasons including their advanced age and the large number of accusations.

The August convictions followed a two-year trial focused on the forced evacuation of around two million Cambodians from Phnom Penh into rural labour camps, and on murders at one execution site.

Both men have lodged appeals against the convictions.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998 without ever facing justice, the Khmer Rouge dismantled modern society in Cambodia in their quest for an agrarian Marxist utopia.

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